How To Deal With Substance Abuse In The Workplace

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There are at least 21 million people in the United States 12 years old and older who misuse drugs or alcohol. It’s not really that much of a stretch to conclude that a good number of employees also have a substance use disorder problem. And the numbers support that proposition.

A report by the National Safety Council (NSC) revealed that 7 in 10 employers will be dealing with the consequences of substance use disorder among their workers. In the same vein, 6 in 10 employers think that addiction is a condition that justifies termination from work. Nevertheless, 7 in 10 employers also think that substance use disorder is a disease that necessitates treatment.

The problem is that they are not getting the help that they need. According to the same survey by the NSC, only about 13% of employees say that they can spot symptoms of substance use disorder. That means, 77% need some sort of training in this regard. The problem of substance use disorder in the workplace is already costing employers about $74 billion per year. So clearly, ignoring this issue is not sustainable in the long run.

How Work Can Lead to Substance Use Disorder

Stress can drive somebody mad, and that’s not a figurative speech either. The working environment is a major contributory factor to substance use disorder.

If the following conditions are present in your company, your employees are at risk of turning to alcohol or drugs in order to cope with the demands of the job.

  • The worker is in a high-stressed situation all the time
  • There’s very little control mechanism from the company’s managers
  • The position has high demand (increasing sales quota, for instance)
  • The worker clocks in extensive hours
  • The shifts are irregular
  • The tasks are monotonous and repetitive
  • The job is boring due to long hours of inactivity
  • No clear career path
  • The worker is isolated from the rest of his colleagues by virtue of his task

Lastly, the worker has access to drugs or alcohol.

Signs of an Addicted Employee

There are ways to spot an addicted employee. Mind you, substance use disorder is not always the reason for the following behaviors. But it doesn’t take away the fact that they need an intervention immediately before things turn for the worse. Consider the following signs of addiction.

  • The employee is constantly absent without prior permission
  • The employee is always applying for a sick leave
  • You get plenty of excuses for absenteeism, as well as absences from the work site
  • The employee blames everybody for his shortcomings
  • Lost productivity
  • The performance is very erratic. There are days when the employee is very productive, much more than usual
  • Lack of attention
  • Bad decisions and poor judgment, even on very basic tasks
  • The employee has difficulty concentrating on very mundane tasks
  • The lackadaisical approach to work
  • The worker comes in with poor hygiene, as well as the lack of interest in grooming
  • The employee prefers to be by himself
  • A sudden change in behavior
  • Figures in work site accidents more than the norm
  • Dilated pupils and slurred speech
  • Lashes out when confronted

How to Handle an Addicted Employee

At the outset, the company should be clear about its alcohol and drug abuse policy. All employees should know the repercussions if they violate the company policy. A written rule of the company’s drug-free policy is actually recommended by the US Department of Labor.

A confrontational approach may backfire. It’s important that the HR personnel have background training on how to deal with substance use disorder in the workplace. More often than not, addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There may be an underlying cause that pushes that employee to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Ideally, the workplace culture is set up in a way that the employee will feel comfortable enough to open up about their problem. With that said, the company has two choices: endorse the employee for treatment or terminate their services. The question now is: would you face legal repercussions if you fire a worker for addiction?

The four pertinent laws that cover addiction and mental health are:

One of the takeaways is that you can’t just fire somebody without cause. Employee Assistance Programs should be in place to help the worker turn his life around.

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Ways HR Managers Can Prevent Substance Abuse

Fortunately, there are ways how the HR department can ensure a drug-free workplace. Here are just some of them:

  • Make sure the workers know the office is a safe environment where they can be transparent without being judged for their actions.
  • Ensure that they don’t overwork the employees, which can result in stress and push them over the edge.
  • Make sure to talk to each employee as a person, and not just a worker that contributes profits to the company.
  • Check on the workers from time to time. Are they happy with their job? Are they sufficiently challenged? What are their personal goals for themselves within the company?
  • Promote team-building activities so you improve relationships between and among co-workers. This will also help employees see their supervisors in a different light.
  • Ensure that everybody knows about the drug-free policy of the company and the possible consequences of violating that policy.
  • Give workshops and training so everybody knows the risks of drug addiction. Everyone should also know how to stop alcohol or drug abuse.

Drug Abuse Prevention Tips

For employers with no prior experience, having a worker with a substance abuse problem can be overwhelming.

Here are some tips to help you address this nagging issue:

  • Understand substance abuse, its causes, and treatment
  • If a worker shows any distress, make sure to schedule an intervention right away. You just might save a life
  • Know the employee’s background and look for the risk factors. It is important to understand these causes of drug addiction.
  • Conduct random drug tests for marijuana and opioids. It’s better that you know what you are dealing with. This will also discourage workers from abusing substances
  • Make sure you promote a well-balanced workplace. Everybody should feel that they are not mere cogs to the machine.
  • Let them know that you are always open to talk, and not just on matters relating to business but their lives, as well
  • For remote workers, make sure to bring them in periodically so they can bond with their colleagues and let them realize they are not forgotten

Substance Abuse in the Workplace is Not the End of the World

If you confirm that each of your workers is abusing alcohol and drugs, it’s certainly not the end of the world. The important thing is you need to take emotion out of the equation to avoid making rash decisions you will regret later on. This is usually what happens among HR managers who may feel betrayed when a worker whom they consider a friend has a dark secret.

Fortunately, you are not alone. Countless other corporations and organizations are on the same boat as you. That means there are successful models of how to deal with this problem that you can follow. Some of these tips are already outlined in this article. But of course, every organization is different. The good news is that employees who have undergone rehab treatment end up getting their jobs back.

Lastly, you may have done everything right but it still won’t prevent somebody from getting addicted. Don’t take it personally when that happens. Addiction is a disease and they need professional help.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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